The Kansas City Star editorial board rightfully condemned even idle talk of building a sports stadium downtown. And while most of the editorial was sound, it ended on a disappointing note:
For now, though, downtown baseball is and should be off the to-do list. The region must deal with more urgent priorities first.
Subsidizing sports stadiums is a bad idea regardless of the timing. Recently, Saint Louis has spent an inordinate amount of time and money trying to force taxpayers to do exactly this. First, there was an effort to build a new riverfront stadium for the Rams. When that plan failed, there was a sprint to build a soccer stadium in hopes of luring an Major League Soccer team to town. Stadiums are said to generate jobs in their construction (they don’t), and drive economic development once they are built (they don’t). At best, they divert people’s disposable income from one activity to another. Stadiums only create wealth for the team owners—who don’t have to share their profits with the taxpayers underwriting their team’s overhead. (In Wyandotte County, Kansas, taxpayer subsidies likely just postpone the inevitable closing of a baseball park.)
These aren’t just the musings of free-market, small-government cranks, either. There is a robust body of research from organizations left and right and in-between that shows stadium handouts are a waste of public resources. Nor do we need to rely on academic studies. The dome formerly known as Edward Jones failed to attract the economic development or population density its boosters promised. Anyone who doubts this should just look at aerial photos of Truman Sports Complex. Much of the land around two stadiums lays un- or under-developed.
Subsidizing sports stadiums, wherever they are built, is bad public policy. Not because of timing, or because there are other more pressing matters in Kansas City, which is true. It’s bad because diverting tax dollars to help big businesses build their own buildings is wasteful of limited public resources intended to provide basic services.